Soggy parking lot
PUNTA GORDA — Preparations for race night at the Punta Gorda Speedway take many different forms. Employees get the track ready and stick around to help racers practice. Vendors truck in beer and bread. Out-of-town competitors book hotel rooms.
In Florida’s rainy season, there’s always been the possibility that weather would disrupt all these plans. It has happened numerous times since the track opened in 1990. This year, the track’s biggest problem hasn’t been the storms themselves but their result: a flooded front parking lot.
Because of the lack of parking, the Speedway so far has canceled five of six racing nights scheduled for the second half of the season, which was supposed to begin Sept. 8.
“Basically, we’ve got a little pond there in the front,” owner Kevin Williams said.
Williams and his landlord, the Charlotte County Airport Authority, have been in discussions for months to fix the flooding problem, with little to show. The Speedway argues that construction of Piper Road has made the flooding worse than it was in previous years.
The Airport Authority disagrees.
“This is not an isolated occurrence,” said Pam Seay, a longtime Airport Authority commissioner. “This is not caused by something we have done. This is Florida weather.”
But the lot is not the only issue between them. The Speedway’s lease is up for a three-year renewal in March, and the two parties have disagreed on how much land the Speedway rents and how much that land should cost. The current lease states the extension will be at “fair market value” — a vague term.
The Airport Authority is set to hold its monthly meeting at 9 a.m. Thursday. The track’s issues are not on the agenda, but Williams said several employees have told him they plan to attend to stick up for the track.
The Speedway’s Facebook page has an event page with a flier urging fans and drivers to come to the meeting and speak at the end, when citizens have two minutes each to speak on any topic. Neither Williams nor his lawyer, Kevin Russell, will be at the meeting.
Russell met with members of the Airport Authority on Monday and reached a consensus on one issue: how much land the track occupies. The rest is still in dispute.
“I think everybody wants to resolve the issues. I do feel that way,” Russell said. “I think our biggest hurdle right now is going to be determining the fair market value.”
Meanwhile, the Speedway is losing business.
“As far as revenue, it’s not only what I’m losing at the race track,” Williams said. “The electric bill still comes. We ordered food and have to pay for it. … We have a lot of inventory sitting around.”
The Airport Authority offered fill dirt for the Speedway’s lot this summer, Seay said, and recently offered dirt that has come from construction of a new road on airport property for Cheney Brothers, a Florida food distributor with plans to locate a warehouse and offices near the Punta Gorda Airport.
However, Seay said, the authority won’t pay to transfer the dirt to the Speedway property, or to lay it out.
“Transporting our dirt from one part of our airport to another part of our airport is something we can do, but we can’t pay for it when it benefits their business,” Seay said. “Do we want to help them? Oh gosh, yes. But it’s a two-way street.”